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History makers

Guest contributor for November is Margaret Skelton. Margaret and her husband, Terry are well known in Denham having been resident here for over 54 years. With Margaret as a long serving Parish Councillor and Terry active in several of the village's groups and societies, in particular the Gardening Club and the Denham History Society, they have a claim not only to have been part of Denham's recent history but to have helped to create a good slice of it.

I was born in Hillingdon and grew up in what was then mostly countryside. The Second World War was in progress and the sight of fighter planes taking off from Northolt Airport was a common one. I was very young and did not realise the danger.

Life went on and Denham was a short cycle ride away. One of my earliest memories was visiting, with my parents the Annual Fete at Denham Film Studios where film stars of the time were in attendance. I found out later that there were quite a few of these stars living in Denham Village, the most notable being John Mills and his family. Denham continued to attract such parishioners for many years right up to the present day.

I met and married my husband Terry in 1958. We lived then in Hillingdon but frequently cycled through Denham and the surrounding countryside. The A40 was then a small dual carriageway with farms and smallholdings and fields, very little traffic.

In 1966 our son Robert was born and we lived for a short while in Stanwell, the other side of London (now Heathrow) Airport - the airport was much smaller then and surrounded by fields which were farmed.

By 1968 Our second child was on the way and we decided to try to move to Denham if possible - only to find that Denham Place was on the market. On looking at the brochure we visited to look at various ‘out’ buildings up for sale which we could afford. We decided to ‘view’ The Clock Tower and stables priced at about £7000. However our hopes were dashed when we found it was a hollow structure with no floors. The cost of turning it into a dwelling was beyond us.

But we now had the thirst to live in Denham.

On one of our visits we found a bungalow in Cheapside Lane opposite the Plough public house. It was derelict and had not been lived in for two years or more after the departure of an American service family. My husband was however (and is) a very keen gardener and when we found the garden consisted of half an acre, vastly overgrown but according to him with ‘potential’ after some extension work etc., it was just right for us. We moved in on April lst 1968 and the local midwife Nurse Baumann also moved in on May 16th that year when daughter Laura was born in the front room.

I could not drive in those days, so with husband at work, I was in the habit of walking with the two children in the pram, mainly to Denham Green down the Pyghtle to the Launderette where Wenzels is now. There was also an excellent greengrocers and bakers there.

This walk took us past an area of land where we became very friendly with the charming ‘old boy’ who kept and looked after several donkeys which had been abandoned. I did ask him one day if we could ‘borrow’ one of his “boys” to graze our garden which was shoulder high in grass, thistles etc. He replied he would love to, but that our neighbours would not take kindly to the plan, as the donkeys would be within hearing distance of each other and would bray day and night.

The Village had several small shops, one of which was a butcher's – I became friendly with the owner and having waited in the queue of local ladies (possibly housekeepers from the larger homes, buying large rolls of meat,) I would purchase my two chops and apologise for my small order – his reply was “Yes but you pay cash”. My introduction to the other side of life. Those days have gone but worth a mention.

We would also walk into Uxbridge – the A40 was a dual carriageway and easily crossed via a small green roundabout (more later). Little did we know that a major road was planned to follow this ancient road. There were rumours of a multi storey roundabout but in the end, it was as we see it today. Work started and poor Denham became a waste area and walks into Uxbridge during construction were difficult, with monstrous machinery nearby.

At least the workmen were very friendly. I was driving by this time and had a shunt right in the middle of the construction site. Two kindly workmen ‘walked’ me through the site from the Uxbridge side to the Denham side with two children in the buggy and my shopping – my car was left on its own awaiting collection by a garage.

As a newcomer to Denham I realised that I had to make friends, perhaps with local mums. There were no such things as playgroups, so I volunteered to help at the Clinic on the corner of Old Mill Road and the A40. I certainly made some very good friends then. The local Mothers Club was started one evening a week. We were able to have the premises free from the Bucks CC as long as we had talks on health, babies, young children etc. but we managed to attract speakers on related subjects such as hair care etc. The clinic (an asbestos building) was demolished many years ago and was replaced with homes.

From then on my husband Terry also became involved with events. We met Rosemary and Peter Temple who lived in Blacksmith Cottage next to the Falcon Public House. With them we became involved in various threats to Denham’s environment. The Denham Neighbourhood Council was formed to fight Central Railways’ plans for a large depot nearby, gravel extraction and one of the routes for the M25. The whole of Denham joined forces to fight these threats and face up to Bucks County Council at Aylesbury to protect Denham and our way of life, even getting the schoolchildren to carry banners. We were successful. These schemes did not go ahead.

I became interested in the Parish Council and became a member of the newly formed group of non-party political “Independents”. We put up for election and were successful in getting several seats. Our group even put up a candidate for the County Council and were again successful.

One of our driving forces was Rosemary Temple and she and I joined the Parish Council together. Rosemary sadly died earlier this year but she had left her mark. I have served on the Council for thirty years plus. I am still a member but not as active due to my husband’s health but I still stay involved as much as possible.

Another notable ‘driving force’ at that time was Madelene Paton who lived in Ashmead Lane, she was very supportive of the “Independents, plus being a great fundraiser for local charities. This was in the early days of the Thames Hospice movement and to benefit the Thames Hospice, Madelene hosted many functions, the Barn Dance in her garden being a great favourite and well attended.

Later the Denham Village Garden Club was formed and Terry and I have very happy memories of visiting gardens in and around Denham and further afield – the club had a stall at the Denham Fayre with proceeds going to St Marys Church. This club is still very active and has a programme of visits each year. Terry’s famous polytunnel became very useful for growing produce for the Fayre.

Terry also became involved with the Denham History Society which met in Denham Green and had speakers at meetings. His interest in Denham’s history was awakened. Unfortunately the club closed a few years ago after being run very successfully by Pam Reed as Chairman and Terry as Secretary. They both were interested in research and Terry went on to write a History of Denham to publish - but due to ill health on his part, all his ‘papers’ have been given to the Denham Community History Project including photographs etc. So his work is in very safe hands.

Our children had been pupils at Denham Village School, and many years later I became the Secretary and later a Governor. This was before computers and office work was on a typewriter.

We had around 36 pupils, our Headmistess and two teachers - I particularly loved filling in the school logbook with new entrants etc. This was a large leather bound to me and the entries were by hand – this was particularly useful when showing round potential parents especially if they had been at the school – they loved to see their names and details in the logbook. I loved the school and even recently I have judged the children’s Christmas Card competition run by the Parish Council. It gives me very great pleasure. I love painting and feel very privileged to be asked to take on this role. The new extension to the school buildings has allowed pupils to stay until 11 yrs old which is so good for Denham.

It has been a privilege to live in Denham all these years plus the scores of people who have been in our lives and are friends.

Photo credits

Margaret Skelton

Kate Ashbrook

Denham Parish Council

Wikipedia Commons Images


Many thanks to Owen Bateman who has emailed us after recognising his Grandad George James, standing alongside Owen's donkey that we now know was named "Fudge".

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Nov 09, 2022

great photo of my Grandad "the old Boy" George James with I think my Donkey called fudge. Thanks for sharing

Nov 09, 2022
Replying to

Thanks Owen. We've added a note to the story to give the donkey's name.

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